Thursday, November 29, 2007

L is for Leader

In the news today, lots of coverage of the President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, stepping down as leader of the military. The common wisdom is that this is an important step towards fully democratizing Pakistan, but a dangerous one since the army is one of the few effective national institutions.

Before going on, it is important to remember that Musharraf was a dictator who seized power in a military coup. He has, at the very least, been unreceptive to allowing dissent and opposition parties. And even if he did appear thoughtful and well-spoken on The Daily Show a few months back, he is not exactly in the mold of the ideal democratic leader.

Keeping those caveats in mind, his resignation from the military reminds me of Washington stepping down as General of the Continental Army. That army was also the only effective national institution. And Washington declined to use his position, and his personal popularity, to shape the early United States as he saw fit. He stepped aside. I've often thought that, despite his "origin" as the leader of a coup d'etat, Musharraf had similar potential in Pakistan. He has not delivered on that potential yet, but this move seems a step in the right direction.

1 comment:

D is for Dissimilar said...

I have to say, I don't see it. Musharraf took power militarily over an existing government, not a remote colonizing power. And he's expressly held that military power for however many years now, and only after a good deal of external pressure has finally agreed to step down from his military position.

Anyone in Musharraf's position would have had potential to set Pakistan on a better path. This, in somewhat the same way that Bush II had the potential to become a great leader (an opportunity that dropped right in his lap, like so much else for him) about six years ago.

But Washington had that power and opportunity, and relinquished it to instead maintain the ideals of a larger group of his contemporary leaders (Jefferson, Adams, Franklin etc). I don't know the story of Musharraf's original coup, exactly, but it certainly appears today that he is much more of an individual dictator in a way that Washington refused to become.

Incidentally, I've read that the large majority of the U.S. aid to Pakistan - ostensibly for security and combating terrorism - has been given directly to Musharraf without checks on how it is used. That's a good recipe for the institutionalization of dictatorship.

You are exactly right, it's a good step for Pervez to finally just be president instead of president/military general. Next step is for him to be supplanted as president in a democratic fashion so that the institutions become more based on "the president" elected, rather than a cult of personality based on Musharraf the individual.

How crazy was it to see him on The Daily Show? To promote his book, no less! I still feel like that was a surreality.

THE MIND IS NOT A VESSEL TO BE FILLED BUT A FIRE TO BE KINDLED